Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

Recipe: Israeli Yemenite Shabbat Fish

Chopstick Cinema

This Week's Film: The Band’s Visit
Cuisine: Israeli

Shabbat is the day of the Sabbath in the Jewish religion, which lasts from just before sundown on Friday afternoon, until sundown on Saturday evening. During this time, those of the Jewish faith refrain from engaging in any work-related activities, and instead enjoy spending time with the family and eating special meals.

Shabbat typically begins with the lighting of two candles at about eighteen minutes before sundown on Friday evenings, followed by the recitation of the Kiddush over a cup of wine, and the blessing of two challah loaves before the evening meal. Prayer services are also held at the synagogue on Friday evenings and again on Saturday mornings. A lunch that often includes meat or fish is served on Saturday afternoons, and another light meal later in the day called Seudah Shlishit, meaning third meal, a light supper that often includes dairy foods or parve foods, which are neither meat nor dairy. Shabbat ends with the recitation of the Havdalah over a cup of wine.

The dish I have chosen for my Israeli meal has a strong Yemenite influence, as there is a large Yemenite population in Israel. I roasted a whole fish over a bed of fresh vegetables, seasoned with lemon juice and spices. The recipe I used for inspiration called for a spice blend called Hawaij, which is essential to the cuisine of Yemen. The blend contains cumin, coriander, turmeric, black peppercorns, cardamom, and cloves. However, since cloves and cardamom did not fit my vision for this particular dish, I omitted those two elements. The spice list also included a generous portion of paprika, which I did include.

For the bed of vegetables, I lined the roasting pan with fresh parsley, minced garlic, chopped onions, carrots, bell pepper, and celery, topped with sliced potatoes and tomatoes, generously doused with olive oil, lemon juice, and white wine, sprinkled with the spice blend. I placed the fish on top and dusted it with the spice blend as well. Once the preparation was finished, I baked it in the oven for about 50 minutes, and my efforts yielded a beautiful and delicious one-dish meal.

My only regret was not finding out the English name of the fish I used. I bought it at 99 Ranch Market, where the seafood is all labeled in Chinese, and the man who served me at the seafood counter barely spoke English. So I chose the best-looking fish they had, a rather unremarkable silver-skinned variety with its eyes on opposite sides of its face, so all I know about it is that it swims upright and appears to be an ocean-going fish. Beyond that, it’s a mystery. When I divided it into portions for serving, I discovered that the skeletal bones are quite large and easy to remove, while the fin bones were easily removed in one piece. The regrettable part is that the fish was so meaty and buttery-delicious that I would love to serve it again. Alas, I don’t know what to call it. I guess I’ll just have to go back to 99 Ranch in hopes that it’s a regular item at their seafood counter and that someone there knows its name in English.

Here is a link to theRecipe on ThingsAsian.

For questions or comments send e-mail to cheiter at thingsasian dot com